Document Details

Title Multi-millennial Record of Erosion and Fires in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, USA
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Abstract

Bottomland sediments from the southern Blue Ridge Mountains provide

a coarse-resolution, multi-millennial stratigraphic record of past regional forest

disturbance (soil erosion). This record is represented by 12 separate vertical accretion

stratigraphic profi les that have been dated by radiocarbon, luminescence,

cesium-137, and correlation methods continuously spanning the past 3,000 years

of pre-settlement (pre-dating widespread European American settlement) and postsettlement

strata. Post-settlement vertical accretion began in the late 1800s, appears

to be about an order of magnitude faster than pre-settlement rates, and is attributable

to widespread deforestation for timber harvest, farming, housing development,

and other erosive activities of people. Natural, climate-driven, or

non-anthropic forest disturbance is subtle and diffi cult to recognize in pre-settlement

deposits. There is no indication that pre-settlement Mississippian and

Cherokee agricultural activities accelerated erosion and sedimentation in the

region. A continuous 11,244 years before present (BP) vertical accretion record

from a meander scar in the Upper Little Tennessee River valley indicates abundant

charcoal (prevalent fi res) at the very beginning of the Holocene (11,244–10,900

years BP). In contrast, moderate to very low levels of charcoal are apparent over

the remaining Holocene until about 2,400 years BP when charcoal infl ux registers

a pronounced increase. These data are consistent with the idea that Native

Americans used fi re extensively to manage forests and to expanded agricultural

activities during Woodland and later cultural periods over the past 3000 years.

However, there is no indication that prehistoric intentional use of fi re and agriculture

caused accelerated erosion and sedimentation.

Contributor D. S. Leigh
Citation

Leigh, D.S. 2015. Multi-millennial Record of Erosion and Fires in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, USA. Pages 167-202 in: Greenberg, C. and Collins, B. (editors). Natural Disturbances and Range of Variation: Type, Frequency, Severity, and Post-disturbance Structure in Central Hardwood Forests. Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Key Words Alluvium, Charcoal, Chronostratigraphy, Holocene, Overbank
File Date 2016
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